The day my news source shocked and surprised me

Saudi inventor Engr. Ibrahim Alalim (inset), and the 2,300 trees of six varieties his company planted for Saudi Aramco in Qurais in the Eastern Province.

The oil spill off Naujan, Oriental Mindoro on Feb. 28 this year reminded me of an incident in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that I had almost forgotten.

      The unfortunate incident in Oriental Mindoro was caused by the oil tanker MT Princess Empress, which was carrying 800,000 liters of industrial oil fuel when it sank and caused heavy damage to the environment and livelihood, not only in the province but neighboring areas.

    In 2014, when I was still working as a journalist in the Saudi capital, I received a call from a Saudi inventor who introduced himself as Engineer Ibrahim Alalim, who had an office in the Suleimania district. He was chair and technology development director at Polykem Switzerland & Estefa Group.

As I was busy at the time, we agreed to meet on a certain date at the Arab News office.

    He showed up at the office in the usual Saudi white garb for men called thawb or thobe.

    “I would want to discuss with you the biotechnology I  have invented, “ Alalim said.

     He explained that his biotechnology involved a liquid extract called Al Raheef, which means “very elegant” in Arabic.

    He said it was made from vegetables and was instrumental in the development of products that would be useful in cleaning utensils, floors and marbles.

    He spent over 12 years developing the technology.

    “If you spray it on an oil spill, it breaks down the (oil’s) composition and the sea water will be cleaned. The broken-down elements will sink to the seabed. If you spray it (extract) on sand with oil spill, it breaks up the oil into smaller particles that sink into the soil like water,“ he said.

    He developed the technology, Alalim said, in the 1990s during a 20-year stint in Lausanne, Switzerland.

   He added that he had also invented a water-saving polymer technology for plants called Polykem Hydrogel PagriSAP, which acted like a water reservoir in the root zone and would provide water on demand to the crop.

    “It also  helps prevent water run-off and increases survival rates, improving the economics of farmers by reducing the use of costly fertilizer and irrigation water,” he said.

    He added, “My invention improves growth and increases the yield of plantations in clay soil deserts with both arid and non-arid soils, as well as inside greenhouses.“

    He said the technology increased production in a farm in Al Baha in 2013. Farm owner Saleh bin Abbas used polymer to plant 7,000 olive trees.

    The inventor added that he was in talks in the United Arab  Emirates, which was interested in his polymer  technology, adding that it was the third country that expressed interest in planting trees using the Polykem Hydrogel PagriSAP.

   “Once placed in soil, it absorbs water 600 times its own weight,“ he said.

    He added that his company had planted 2,300 trees of six varieties for Saudi Aramco in Qurais in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia with the use of the water-saving polymer.

    I was amazed by his brilliance, energy and  dynamism. At age 70, he looked healthy and drove around the city in his Lexus SUV (sport utility vehicle).

    In 2017, I tried to call him about his company’s latest activities but the phone just kept ringing.

    After a few days I called again. A  guy took my call and I told him I wanted to talk to the Saudi inventor.

    “Didn’t you know about it?,” he said. After a few seconds he added, his voice trailing off into a whisper, “He has passed on.”

    Shock and surprise at the sad news silenced me, and I could not talk or move for some time.

    In silence, I thanked  the late engineer for having been a good source — and for the excitement I had for the good and exclusive stories he gave me.

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